Has Squidoo Just Doomed Itself to the Search Engine Scrapheap?

Yeah, I know I haven’t written anything in this blog for several months and to be honest, I simply haven’t felt the need to write anything. Plus I’ve been busy figuring out what I need to do with my own sites to get Google to take its jackboot off my bloody neck and let some of my sites rank again. But that’s another story.

This is the story of a once mighty web 2.0 site known as Squidoo.

I’ve been a member at Squidoo since 2007 and have watched it go through its ups and downs with its relationship with the mighty search engine that is the closest thing to a cyber god (deliberately spelled with a small “g”) for those of us who make our living from its search index. A few years ago, it ran afoul of Google’s graces and was unceremoniously “slapped” down because of the proliferation of total crap that spammers were building “lenses” about.

The Squid introduced some tough anti-spam measures, booted out the spam and after a while, was allowed back in to Google’s good books. In fact, for the past year or so, Squidoo lenses have been much easier to rank in the SERPs than my own sites, thanks to Squidoo’s massive site authority. But all that is about to change again.

Has Seth Godin Officially Lost It?

Seth Godin, the man behind the massive success of Squidoo and his team of headless chickens are reacting to some big problems they have created for themselves by taking draconian measures to avoid another Google slap. Apparently, the site has been warned to curb its recent growth of “thin” pages that are full of affiliate links.

Fair enough you might say. Take steps to force lensmasters to pad out their lenses with good, original, readable and useful content and reduce the number of affiliate links on each page. These “sales” lenses have made a lot of lensmasters a lot of money over the last year, which is why they were being built at an alarming rate, with the full backing of the Squidoo team I might add, thanks to their frequent “challenges” and other promotional moves.

So far the measures introduced have seemed fair enough. But it seems this is not enough for dear old Seth. He appears to have lost this particular plot. Or perhaps his team of top dogs have lost their heads.

Nofollow Links

For some unbeknown reason, they have decided that all outbound links from all lenses should now be nofollow.

Has anybody there actually thought that one through?

Does anyone listen to Matt Cutts or other important Google employees when they tell us that our pages should link out to authority sites? Does anyone listen when we’re told that we should NOT build pages with no outbound links for the spiders to follow? Because creating “dead-end” pages is NOT good for the way in which Google crawls the web and therefore NOT good for a site that follows that practice?

Apparently not.

For those who don’t know this: Not all outbound links are the work of evil spammers. It is actually quite natural to link to a page that may have been referenced to support an article, or to an accepted authority on the subject as “further reading” and the spiders must be allowed to follow those links.

It is even natural to link to our own sites if a lens the article is supported in some way by a complimenting article on our own site. Not an evil attempt to game the system, but a legitimate reference.

Preventing this by implementing a blanket “nofollow” on all outbound links actually reduces the authority of the page because it does not allow the spiders to follow the links to the referenced material.

It’s also well known in SEO circles that a no-followed outbound link on a page is an indicator that the link may have been “bought” – a sure signal to the Google spam team that closer inspection may be warranted. Do we want Google to start looking at all our lenses thinking we’re selling links because they’re now all “no-follow” and worse, they’re pointing at our own sites?

Didn’t think so.

Misinformed Forum Comments

I don’t much enjoy reading through comments in the official Squid forum especially over these changes. Certainly, there are some members who really do understand this and have explained why this is a bad idea. But it looks like they have been shouted down by the majority herd.

Most the members are simply ill informed about how linking and SEO works. Many believe (in their ignorance) that this measure is a good thing. Its not their fault they don’t understand how things really work. But reading their comments just makes me shake my head in sympathy for the people who are in charge of Squidoo, who seem to be listening more to these people than to people better qualified to make that kind of judgement.

Some Respite?

Thankfully, there seems to be at least some sense has filtered through the skulls of the people that run things. They have already back-peddled a little and realized that nofollowing internal links was a very bad idea. But that still doesn’t bode well for what the Google spiders will encounter when spidering that huge, supposed authority site and finding no way out of it, like they’ve been caught in a jar and had the lid put on without any breath holes.

What indeed.

So we wait and see what happens next. Will Seth and Co. come to their senses in time and figure out a better way of dealing with the problem of “thin” lenses with too many affiliate links?

Or will they do exactly what the owners of Hub Pages did a while ago and allow their domain authority to implode by panicking and implementing so many changes they have no way to gauge what the effect of each change has had on the site? Will they then be forced to watch a mass exodus of the authors that actually make the money for the site?

Where will they go next? Many Hubbers (me included) moved a lot of good, original, useful and most importantly sales generating content to Squidoo when HubPages went into self destruct.

Many will bleat the tired old mantra “its not your site, if you don’t like what they’re doing, just leave… yada yada yada” and they’re quite right. If the owners of the site want to mismanage it all the way to the search engine scrapheap like HubPages did, I certainly don’t want all my hard work to go with it.

The next move is yours, Seth. Please make it a good one.

PS: here’s this page’s outbound link to an authority site: http://hq.squidoo.com/squid-news/changing-link-status-on-squidoo/ – its a link to that particular forum post that is getting everybody so alarmed.

Hub Pages Change their Rules in Reponse to Google’s Update

So Hub Pages have made some sweeping changes to their publishing rules that will affect all users (Hubbers, as they like to call them). Well, it was going to happen and to be honest, I’m really glad they finally came to their senses. So what are the changes?

Here is an excerpt from an email I just received from them:

…it is now a requirement on HubPages to have at least 50 words for each eBay or Amazon product you feature in a Hub, and it is no longer permissible to place RSS, Link, News, Amazon, or eBay capsules as the first full-width capsule in a Hub.

We have also changed our policy regarding duplicated content. While we used to allow Hubbers to have some duplicated content (e.g. to publish their off-site writing and blog posts to HubPages as well) so long as they did not link back to the original source, we have now simplified the rules so that no duplicated content is allowed on HubPages, period.

No big surprise about the duplicate content thing. It is a big no-no from Google’s point of view and really anyone who was going to the trouble of creating a Hub Page and then copy/pasting a page of text from their own website was being pretty naive. Two reasons for that.

  1. Google hates duplicate content so duplicates get removed from their index pages
  2. If you put your website’s content on a big authority site like hubpages.com then they are going to “own” the content in the eyes of Google simply because that site has more authority than yours, meaning your site could end up taking a penalty from Google resulting in a drop for your site (or its page) in their index.

They don’t seem to have addressed another potentially big problem that may well have had a big influencing factor in getting the whole domain devalued in the Google index. That is the nature of the content that is being published on hubpages. Most topics are fair game and rightly so, but there are a few topics, particularly those branded as spammy, that Google are cracking down on. They include things like weight loss (or more particularly the acai berry and hoodia side of that subject), penis enlargement (yes, we are all fed up about hearing about it), getting your boyfriend/girlfriend back (this has reached epic proportions), certain feminine viral infections along with male virility drugs, smokeless cigarettes and of course the old chestnuts of adult topics.

There are more and to get a good idea what they are, just head over to squidoo.com and check their list of banned topics to see what they are.

That last statement may make you stop and think for a moment why Hub Pages were penalized and Squidoo were not. In 2009, Squidoo were badly penalized by Google because they were allowing so much spam to be published on their site. They reacted back then by creating a list of banned topics and systematically removing all lenses that fell under them. It took a while, in fact the best part of a year before Squidoo lenses started to rank well again in Google’s index but they did and they still do.

Reason?

They don’t allow certain spammy topics that places like Hub Pages and Ezine Articles (another casualty of the recent Google crackdown). Funny, neither do eHow, who also came through the crackdown unscathed.

Anyway, I digress and these theories have already been written about elsewhere so I won’t go expanding on them too much. The point of this post is to let my 3 readers know that Hub Pages are doing something positive about their current lacklustre performance in the SERPs because of Google’s “Farmer” update as it has become known.

Whether they are doing enough remains to be seen.

Terry Didcott